Hiking in Funeral Slot Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California

Funeral Slot Canyon (Death Valley NP) 24-Jan-2020

There are probably a lot of deep slot canyons in Death Valley National Park, but not many of them are particularly long or readily accessible. Funeral Slot Canyon, located 3.5 miles northwest of Furnace Creek Ranch, is an exception. We had planned to hike it in September 2018 but had to take a pass when we found the trailhead at Texas Springs Campground closed. Which was for the better since it was way too hot then to be walking six shadeless miles in a wash just to see a really, really narrow canyon. This year we arrived when the campground was open and the hiking weather excellent.

There is no formal trailhead for this hike but you can start from the day use area in the campground. There isn’t room there for more than 2-3 vehicles but there’s a little more parking on a wide spot along the road about 200 feet to the northwest. We snagged a spot at the day use area and hiked from there to the wash immediately to the north. The mouth of the slot canyon is essentially invisible until you’re right at it, so you have to stay in this wash or you won’t find it.

Fortunately, we found a horse trail (for horse rides from the stables at Furnace Creek Ranch) that we could follow for a mile up the wash.

Hiking up a wash at Death Valley National Park, California
Following the horse trail up the wash
Hiking up a wash at Death Valley National Park, California
Furnace Creek Ranch (green patch) and Telescope Peak from the horse trail
Hiking up a wash at Death Valley National Park, California
The horse trail starts looping back at a yellow mound; keep right (arrow) here to stay in the wash

The horse trail starts returning to the stables at a large yellow mound. So we left the trail here and continued on cross-country up the middle of the wash. The tedium of marching up a sandy wash was relieved a lot by the big views we got out over Death Valley.

Hiking up a wash at Death Valley National Park, California
Continuing on up the wash
Telescope Peak from higher in the wash

About 2.5 miles up the wash from the campground we reached the mouth of the canyon and some towering walls of mud-like conglomerate.

Reaching the mouth of the canyon
The canyon walls start to grow

We passed through a few narrow sections in the next mile,

The canyon narrows in places
And overhangs in others

but it wasn’t until we reached a fork in the main canyon 3.5 miles from the campground and turned north into the right fork (marked with a large white boulder) that we reached the truly deep and narrow slots – a section Digonnet calls The Slot.

Entering The Slot
The Slot
The Slot
The Slot
The Slot
The Slot

We went about 0.4 miles up The Slot before we ran into Tunnel Fall, a blockage that requires some Class 4 moves to surmount. Not wanting to take any chance of reprising last year’s canyoneering mishap, we reversed course here and went back to explore the main canyon. It has a few narrow and interesting sections, but none quite as nice as those in the “The Slot.” About a half-mile up the main canyon from The Slot we came to a glass-smooth 15-foot fall that could apparently be surmounted if we were willing to do “…tedious work over highly unstable ground.” We weren’t so we headed back.

A narrow point in the main canyon
Heading back
A narrow vein of almost pure quartz
In the wash, with the canyon mouth directly above The LovedOne

Exploring both The Slot and the main canyon took 8.3 miles round-trip, with 1,300 feet of gain. The Slot was pretty interesting but we’re undecided as to whether it’s worth the slog to reach it. Had we not had near perfect hiking weather, we might have been dissuaded. Climbing past the various obstacles at the end of the walking parts of The Slot and the main canyon may improve this hike’s cost/benefit ratio, but doing so would make this a riskier endeavor than just a hike. :/

Our route to Funeral Slot Canyon (1 is The Slot, 2 is the main canyon)
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